THE PLANK NOVEMBER 2, 2009
Two years ago, I wrote about my long-standing problems with Comcast’s broadband and television service. The intermittent outages, the frequent slowdowns, the unavailable phone support, and the incompetent repair people, to whom Comcast had outsourced its service to customers. So why did I stick with Comcast? Well, the people Verizon sent over couldn’t figure out how to connect the FIOS line from the garage across the house to the cable television and computer. In addition, Comcast not only promised to be good but made me one of those $99 a month offers for phone, internet, and TV that I couldn’t refuse. So I stuck with Comcast.
My wife ordinarily handles our house finances – and last month, she asked me about the Comcast bill. It wasn’t $99 a month. It had gone up to $250 or so. Of course, we had a few extras like the tennis channel, but that was about it. Once the initial offer had expired, our bill had evidently doubled. I called Comcast for an explanation, and the sales person offered to sell me an entirely new package. I was having none of it. I decided to try Verizon again. I figured that if Comcast’s repair people could figure out how to get from the garage to the TV, Verizon’s people could do it, too.
I called Verizon and was offered a bevy of special deals and packages that made my head spin. I finally settled on one that was about a $100 less a month than Comcast and seemed to include mobile broadband, which would allow me to chuck my account with Sprint. All in all, we would be saving a lot of money. And Verizon seemed conscientious. They must have called or emailed me five times to confirm the time of my appointment and the repair person showed up exactly on time. He installed the phone, TV and internet, and was on his way. I asked him several times about the mobile broadband, but he didn’t know. He left me his card and said if I had problems to call him.
From my brief experience, Verizon’s fiber-optic technology and software is superior to Comcast. The TV picture is better, the internet is less susceptible to slowdown (because a fiber optic cable has far greater capacity) and probably to stoppages. But as I began to use the Verizon system, I kept coming up with questions I couldn’t answer. First, lo and behold, my other televisions, which were attached to the main TV, and had worked fine with the basic Comcast channels, didn’t work at all. I called the repair guy twice and left a message, but I never heard from him.
When someone called from Verizon to ask how the installation had gone, I mentioned the problem, and he said I would need a DTC-700, and would have to call the business office about it. He didn’t explain what it was. I called the business office three times. I was kept on waiting an average of a half hour. The first time, I was cut off. The second time, someone finally came on, but couldn’t hear me. The third time I gave up, and looked on the web, where after much googling I discovered that I would have to pay an additional monthly fee if I wanted to use additional TVs, even I didn’t want any of the premium channels. The price was going up. My special deal had begun to disappear.
I then tried to figure out how I could get the mobile broadband I had been promised. I took my laptop out to Borders, but I had no access to any Verizon lines. No one had mentioned a card, and I didn’t have one. I started another long march through the internet, and finally discovered that I had not acquired mobile broadband, but access to a few scattered “hotspots” across the country for which I’d have to download software from Verizon. Finding the software for my laptop only took about three hours and involved multiple new passwords. It was Theseus at the Labyrinth. And when I was finished, I had a service that was hardly worth it to begin with.
This morning I got a phone call, but didn’t answer it on time. My phone said I had a message on it, but I didn’t know how to access voice mail. My phone had previously been with Comcast. So I called Verizon. This time, I was only on hold for fifteen minutes, but the person who answered told me that she couldn’t help me, because I had “fiber” and would transfer me. I was transferred to an automated service that couldn’t understand “yes” or “no” or “voicemail.” I hung up.
I have to admit that I didn’t think it was possible to have worse service than Comcast. It was like trying to imagine a more devastating hurricane than Katrina or a higher mountain than Everest. But I have found it with Verizon. We’re not talking here about companies on the brink of insolvency that have to pinch every penny, but two of the most prosperous and powerful companies in America. According to the vaunted theory of the free market, competition is supposed to make these companies more responsive to the consumer. We have a nearly free market, courtesy of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, and as far as I am concerned, it is not working. The FCC, and if necessary, Congress, needs to get on this case.